Thursday, 29 May 2008

Episode 42 - Who is this guy?

Cassy was just putting the finishing touches to the lunch when she heard Sophie’s car pull up outside the farmhouse.

Sophie waved to the site foreman as she made her way around to the kitchen.

The builders were sitting under a tree in the small wood at a table they had fashioned from an old door propped up on some spare breeze blocks waiting patiently for the salad that Cassy had promised them. The table was already groaning with the bread and cheeses that they had brought with them and Ollie was filing their glasses with the cheap red wine that he had bought from the local cava.

Work on the new house was at last starting to take shape but with early starts the builders were ready for their lunch at mid day and a long siesta in the afternoon before working through to the early evening. So much more sensible thought Sophie, than trying to work through the hottest part of the day, as long as they were on schedule how ever they organised their day was fine by her.

Putting her bulging briefcase down on the kitchen table Sophie marveled yet again at how organised Cassy was. When they had first met during those dreadful days just after Martin’s heart attack, Sophie had thought that Liam and Cassy were just another couple of new age hippies looking for a life away from the rat race back in the UK. What she didn’t realise until much later was just how committed the Stratton’s were to making their new business a success.

Sophie looked back with embarrassment to those days when her job was her passion. The problem was that is was a passion that left little time for anything else in her life. How could she have been so stupid, Sophie wondered for the hundredth time, there she was living for work instead of working to live. Well those days were well and truly over. Now, all her energy and commitment was for her family and their new life in Spain.

Selling the house in London hadn’t been a problem, and after paying off their substantial mortgage they still had enough equity to be able to put in the finance to the holiday business and have the new house built.

The tantalising smell of warm bread made Sophie realise that she was hungry and leaving her bags in the kitchen she wandered outside to look for Cassy. Standing at the kitchen door Sophie peered down to the little wood and saw Cassy laying a large wooden bowl down on the builders’ makeshift table. Sophie laughed to herself when she realised that Cassy was now providing lunch for the workmen, no wonder, she thought, the house is shooting up, with her running a cafĂ© for them.

‘I see you’ve noticed Cassy’s latest venture’ said Liam wandering out from his small office ‘home delivery.’

‘I don’t know where she finds the time’ said Sophie in wonder ‘I barely remember to feed myself never mind a dozen hungry workmen.’

‘She doesn’t want Ollie to feel awkward at lunch time’ explained Liam ‘all the other workers bring something for the table and want to share it with him.’

‘Who’s Ollie?’

‘The young chap in the long shorts, the one pouring the wine.’

‘I haven’t seen him before, is he new?’

‘’Didn’t Cassy tell you about our mystery man? He turned up in his campervan one day looking for work. He says he’s on his Gap year, traveling around Europe but Cassy thinks there more to it than that. You know what she’s like; she has him running away from a shattered love affair. He’s traveling alone with a broken heart looking for a new love.’ Alistair laughed

‘That sounds like Cassy.’ Said Sophie shaking her head ‘I suppose he couldn’t just be a student taking a year out.’

‘No far too boring’

‘What’s far too boring?’ asked Cassy walking into the kitchen, kissing Sophie on the cheek and lifting Abbi from her pushchair all in one effortless move.

‘I was just telling Sophie about young Ollie.’

‘He’s such a sweetie.’ Sighed Cassy ‘works all day on the site and is perfectly content to sit around talking to us old fogies every evening after dinner. At his age most young boys would want to be out clubbing or at least mixing with people of their own age.’

‘Is he staying her with you?’ Asked Sophie incredulously

‘No, he’s staying in his campervan behind the barns but I’ve said that he can eat with us if he wants to. I couldn’t bare the thought of him sitting on his own every night eating cold baked beans straight from the can.’

‘Cassy you are incorrigible. You know nothing about this boy, he could be a thief or on the run form the police.’ Said Sophie horrified that her friend could be so naive as to let a stranger virtually move in with them.

‘Now who’s got a vivid imagination?’ laughed Cassy ‘Ollie is just a sweet young boy, far away from home and probably a little bit lonely.’

‘And I suppose the fact that he’s good looking has nothing to do with all the hospitality you're lavishing on him.’ Laughed Liam

‘I hadn’t noticed’ said Cassy flicking at his legs with the tea towel.

‘Of course you hadn’t’ laughed Sophie ‘but seriously what do you know about him, where is he from, what does he do for a living?’

‘He’s just finished University, I think he said that he’d been in Wales studying Earth Science, what ever that is.’ said Liam ‘I guess he’s just traveling. It’s not that unusual, Cassy and I spent time wandering around India when we graduated. In fact that’s where we met. We were both working in a school out there teaching English and when we finished we did the usual back packer trail before ending up on the beaches of Goa.’

‘Didn’t you take a year out after you graduated?’ asked Cassy

‘No, I had a job offer from Crabtree and Wright waiting for me. I’d had an internship with them the year before and they’d offered me a position with them on the strength of that. It seemed far too good an opportunity to turn down. And I suppose that I’m not really the backpacker sort. I enjoy my creature comforts too much to want to rough it around the world. I’m more of a five start hotel kind of girl.’

‘Well we’ll just have to hope that the builders manage to get your house built before the paying guests start to arrive’ laughed Liam ‘otherwise you’ll be joining us and living in the middle of a building site.’

‘Heaven forbid’ said Sophie looking worried.’ They should be finished in plenty of time, shouldn’t they?’

‘As long as Cassy’s cooking doesn’t kill them off.’ He laughed

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Episode 41 - A Stranger in Town

Liam closed down the spreadsheet and stood up from his computer desk smiling to himself. Since Sophie and Alistair had bought their bottom field, Liam and Cassy were beginning to see that their dreams might just come true.

They had put in so much buying the finca up in the hills and had realised that getting the renovations done to the farmhouse would be a struggle financially, but nothing had prepared them for the time it would take. Getting the tradesmen organised and the materials bought and paid for before their deadline of the autumn had become a nightmare.

Liam knew that he was lucky to be able to continue doing the job he loved in Spain but even the best coders in the world didn’t make the kind of money they needed for all the building work that needed doing to the finca.

Back home in the UK all the home renovation programmes on the TV made it look so easy. The only thing that seemed to go wrong for them was that the builders had to wait for the rain to stop. What the programmes didn’t tell you was just how long it could take to even get the plans approved., never mind scheduling in builders who always seemed to be ‘just finishing another job mate’. Days had stretched to weeks and weeks to months before the Strattons even had running water in the kitchen.

And all the time there was the worry that their savings would run out long before the builders had finished. What a difference being solvent made, thought Liam. No more worries about getting the money together to pay for a new roof before booking the roofer.

Sure they had worried at first about going into business with the Sophie and Alistair, it was after all a big step, but financially it made so much more sense than them struggling to cope on their own for the next few years. They had spent hours in meetings together planning how they wanted things to develop and who would be responsible for which part of the business.

Alistair was going to be a very much sleeping partner, his job was based in Brussels at the moment but eventually he hoped to be able to transfer to Madrid. Even the he wouldn’t be onsite for the day to day problems whereas Liam knew that working from home meant that he could organise his day sufficiently to enable him to be on hand for any problems that might crop up with the business.

Sophie had come up with some brilliant ideas for renovating the big barn into holiday apartments and Cassy had agreed that she would be happy to run them as long as she could employ some locals to help with the maintenance and cleaning. Converting the stables for the pony trekking business had been all Sophie’s idea and over the past month or so she had spent hours researching and planning the project.

At last, thought Liam, it looks like it might just happen. The builders had already put a digger in the bottom field to start levelling the ground ready for the foundation to be laid for Sophie and Alistair’s new home. Cassy had insisted that the plans for their house should incorporate keeping as many of the trees from the old woodland as possible. She loved the fact that the finca was remote and enjoyed the isolation but even she realised that if they were to live their dream that would have to share their space, their little bit of heaven.

‘What are doing staring out of the window?’ Cassy asked, walking into Liam’s small office carrying baby Abi on her hip. ‘I thought you were busy getting the figures for the barn conversion out to Sophie?’

‘It’s all done and winging it’s way to her as we speak’ Liam turned from the window and put his arm around his beautiful wife. ‘We are doing the right thing aren’t we’ he asked

‘I can’t see how we could have stayed here otherwise. The farmhouse was turning into a money pit and with the best will in the world, renting out three bedrooms for bed and breakfast wouldn’t have brought in the income to pay off the loans. No. I think that we did the only sensible thing going into partnership with the Montgomery’s.’

‘Do you worry that it won’t be just our dream any more?’ He asked taking Abi from Cassy’s arms.

‘I suppose I did at first but if we’re all sensible about it I don’t see why it shouldn’t work out fine.’

‘I’m sure you’re right, I’m just being a worry-boots. I wonder if Mr Rolls had these worries when we went into partnership with Mr Royce?’ pondered Liam

‘Probably, but then they didn’t have their wives there to sort them out’ laughed Cassy walking out to the kitchen ‘Liam, there’s somebody coming up path from the lane, can you see who it is please.’

‘Sure, come on Abi let’s go and investigate’ and carrying the baby on his shoulders Liam made his way out to the front of the farmhouse. ‘Hi there’ he called to the stranger ‘can I help you?’

Standing outside the door looking dusty and tired was a young man dressed in crumpled shorts and a grubby t-shirt. ‘I’m sorry to bother you but I noticed all the building work you’re having done and wondered if you needed any labourers?’

‘I know that the builders on the bottom field have a full crew but we could do with someone for a couple of days up here at the barns. It’d only be lugging building material up the drive and some general tidying up.’

‘Anything would be great, thank you.’

‘Where are you staying, it’s a bit of a hike up here from the village everyday.’

‘I’ve got an old campervan parked up on the other side of the hill.’

‘Doing the Gap year are you?’ Liam laughed

‘Yeah, something like that.’

‘Well if you’re going to be working here for a while why don’t you bring the van round to that field next to the barn? There’s running water and we’ve even managed to get the toilets plumbed in to one of the apartments so you can use that if you want.’

‘That’d be great. Oh my name’s Ollie by the way.’

‘Hi Ollie, I’m Liam, this little squirt is Abi and my wife Cassy is in the kitchen getting some lunch ready. Have you eaten? Do you fancy something to eat?’ Asked Liam

‘As long as your wife doesn’t mind?’ asked Ollie hopefully

‘I won’t mind what?’ asked Cassy coming out of the house drying her hands on a tea towel.

‘Young Ollie here joining us for lunch.’ Said Liam

‘Of course I don't mind, the more the merrier. I hope you’re hungry, I’ve made enough soup to feed an army.’

‘Great’ laughed Ollie following them in to the farmhouse ‘I could eat a horse’

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Episode 40 - Lizzie’s little empire is growing

Ken stood in his garage surrounded by boxes and boxes of Lizzie’s stock for her stall. Bloody hell, he thought she’s got enough gear here to set up half a dozen stalls. He was amazed how much stuff she was managing to sell, though he wouldn’t dream of telling her how well he thought she was doing. His philosophy was to keep quiet and hope that this latest fad of hers would just disappear but even he had to admit as plans go, it was not one of his best.

Lizzie’s stall was going from strength to strength and even if Ken did think that the hours she spent on the phone to her brother Frankie arranging delivery of new stock was a pain, he had admit that the extra income was very welcome. If only he could find his golf clubs under all the clutter.

‘What are you doing, I hope you haven’t moved any of them boxes. You’ll ruin my filing system’ shrieked Lizzie as she walked into the garage.

‘What bleeding filing system? It’s like a jumble sale out here.’ Ken moaned

‘What are you doing out here anyway’

‘I’m trying to find my bloody golf clubs. Have you hidden them again?’

‘You left them in the downstairs cloakroom after you’d finished washing the clubs in the sink. They’ve been there for the past two days’ Lizzie stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. ‘And don’t forget to put those boxes back where you found them’

Ken muttered to himself as he shoved two of the boxes across the floor with his foot. ‘I thought that you were supposed to be looking for a lock-up for this stuff?’

‘Well you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve gone one better than that. I’ve just been talking to the estate agent in the village. Do you remember that little shop we saw empty, the one just behind the market?’

‘What, the old electrical shop, the tatty looking place?’

‘It’s not that bad, nothing a lick of paint wouldn’t put right, well I’ve said that we’ll take the lease up on it.’

‘You’ve done what’ yelled Ken fighting his way through the boxes ‘and just where do you think the money is coming from? I hope you don’t think it’s coming out of the savings.’

‘Don’t bust a gasket, I’m not touching your precious savings. There’s enough cash coming in to lease the shop for six months and some left over to tidy it up. Frankie said that he would come over with a couple of mates and give me a hand to do it.’

‘Frankie, I might have known. Why is it that your brother always seems to know what’s going on before I do?’ yelled Ken

‘Because he shows some bloody interest, that’s why.’

Lizzie looked at Ken as he stood there seething.

‘If you showed some interest I’d love to be doing all this with you. But all you ever do is tell me that I’m going to make a fool of myself. At least Frankie has some faith in me.’

‘Oh Lizzie, I don’t want to you fail. I’m really pleased that your business is going well. I just wanted us to move to Spain and spend more time together, not have you working all hours and never get to see you.’

Lizzie put her arms around Ken shoulders and kissed him gently on his check. ‘You soft sod, that’s all I want too. So why don’t we do this together, let’s run our own business. I can do the selling and you can be in charge of getting the deliveries over from England.’

‘What driving backwards and forwards each month?’ Asked Ken horrified.

‘No silly, I mean dealing with the suppliers and shippers, stuff like that.’

‘I suppose I could give you a hand doing up the shop as well, if you like.’

‘Ah babe, that’d be great. Do you fancy coming down to the village with me this afternoon to see it? I told the estate agent I would be there about five o’clock. This is so exciting, our very own shop. What should we call it?’

‘Gawd knows. I’m surprised you haven’t got a name already.’ laughed Ken.

‘I was thinking of something classy like E J Interiors.’

‘Yeah, not bad’ pondered Ken ‘But not really you.’

‘Of course it’s me EJ - Elizabeth Jessel’

‘But nobody calls you Elizabeth.’

‘Alright clever clogs, you think of a name.’

Ken sighed and sat down on the nearest box ‘I don’t know, how about Lizzie’s Loot.’

‘That makes me sound like a bank robber.’ Laughed Lizzie ‘how about Lizzie’s Loft’

‘That’s great. I love it, Lizzie’s Loft, I’ll drink to that.’


‘Where do you want these boxes sis’ asked Frankie as he started unloading the van outside the villa.

‘Just put them in the garage for now. Ken will sort them out later.’

‘Where is the old sod, down at the club as usual?’

‘No he isn’t.’ snapped Lizzie ‘he’s at the shop finishing off the painting.’

‘I thought that you wanted my mates over to do that?’ asked Frankie as he finished emptying the van.

‘No need, Ken’s been brilliant. There’s only the flooring to lay now and the it’ll be ready for me to start dressing it.’

‘Dressing it’ exclaimed her brother ‘you sound like one of them property shows off the tele.’

‘Well that’s what it’s like. You have to make people want to buy your stuff and the best way to do that is show people what it would look like in their own homes.’

‘I don’t believe you sis. You’re turning into a right little Alan Sugar.’

‘You’d better believe it Frankie. This time next year, who knows, we could have a whole string of shops along the coast. There are plenty of ex-pats buying property out here and it isn’t just the Brits. There are Germans, Dutch, Swedes and loads from the old communist countries. And not everyone wants to ship there stuff all the way out to Spain, they want to get new stuff here.’

‘Well good luck to you but at this rate I’ll have to buy a bigger van.’

‘Oh Frankie love I wouldn’t expect you to carry on bringing the stuff out for me. Now I’ve got the shop to run Ken is going to be in charge of all the buying and with the bigger orders we can put in to the suppliers I’m sure that he’ll be able to do a deal over the shipping costs.’

Frankie looked at his sister in horror. These trips to Spain each month had proved a nice little earner for him. Not only was Lizzie paying him to bring her stuff out but filling the van for the return trip with cheap Spanish beer and spirits had been very profitable around the car boot sales at home. He would have to think fast to convince his miserable brother-in-law to keep things exactly they were they were. Frankie knew that he had too much to loose to let this nice little arrangement stop.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Episode 39 - Getting back to normal?

I felt quite tearful this morning. I’m not sure why. It isn’t if I’m not used to seeing Martin going to London for the week, he used to do it all the time. But this is the first time he’s been back since his heart attack. All the logic in the world can tell me that he will be fine but let’s face it; I’m only human and can’t help worrying.
Although I’m not sure what I am really worrying about.

If I was a good wife, I would be able to tell you that I’m worried about him having another heart attack or at the very least that he will start working long hours again and stop eating properly. But if I’m honest, I’m probably more worried that these won’t be the only bad ways he will slip back into.

All the reasons he had the affair with that bitch Laura are still there. He will still need to work long hours at the office then go back home to an empty flat. The casinos and bars will still seem a better option than spending an evening alone.

As far as I can see nothing has changed, apart that is, from Martin. He keeps telling me that he’s different now. He swears that he loves me and the girls too much to ever risk loosing us. I’m sure that he means, now, but will he still be that strong when its winter time and he’s cold and lonely?

And what do I do in the meantime? Should I trust him, should I even believe him when he says that he’s changed? What was it my old Mum used to say, ‘a leopard never changes his spots’? Well what about Martin, are his spots past being changed?

If I’m not careful, all this introspection will send me crazy. I suppose now that he’s well again, its time for me to make my mind up what I really want from life. Do I carry on as before and hope that marriage and family is enough for Martin or do I cut my losses and leave him while I am still young enough to try and make a new life for myself. I think that what I’ve really got to ask myself is do I love him enough to accept him for what he is?

Well one thing I’m not going to do is sit around moping. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I’m going on holiday with my beautiful daughter soon, so I’m treating myself to a shopping trip for some new clothes.

There, that’s all I need, some retail therapy

I’m glad that I walked down to the village, its far too nice a day for driving and I might even treat myself to a long lunch at Maria’s after I finish shopping.

‘Hi Fliss, you’re looking very pleased with yourself.’

‘Oh hi Lizzie, I’m sorry I didn’t see you there I was miles away.’

‘All on your own? Where’s Martin?’

‘He’s back at work, in fact this is his first day. He flew back to London this morning.’

‘Oh you poor thing’ cried Lizzie ‘you must be worried sick.’

‘Just a little I suppose, but he’s fine now. The doctors are really pleased with him and given him a full bill of health.’

‘So what are you going to do with yourself today?’

‘Retail therapy’ I laugh

‘Fancy some company? I’ve got rid of Ken for the day. He’s off somewhere playing golf with Malcolm and few of the other old buggers down the coast, so I don’t expect I’ll see him again before bedtime. Well not sober at least. I swear Fliss those old men spend more time at the nineteenth hole than they do on the course.’

Lizzie’s fun is so infectious I can think of nothing nicer than spending the morning mooching around the shops with her.

‘How about we make a day of it and you join me for lunch? I was going to treat myself at Maria’s.’

‘I can see that this is going to be my kind of shopping trip.’ Laughs Lizzie. ‘If you don’t mind Fliss, do you think that I could invite Gloria for lunch too? I’m sure that she’s just sitting home on her own.’

‘Why not, the more the merrier. Tell her to meet us at Maria’s about 2 o’clock. I’m sure that that should give us enough time to find some pretty new dresses for my holidays.’

‘Oh that’s right. Gloria told me that you were having a girly holiday with Ella. You lucky sod, what I wouldn’t do for some time away from Ken. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bones of him, but dear god he’s a miserable bugger sometimes.’

‘Aren’t they all’ I laugh ‘aren’t they all’

After trying on nearly every summer dress in the village we are both exhausted as we arrive at Maria’s

‘Look there’s Gloria, she beaten us to it’ says Lizzie making her way to the shady table Gloria has found at the edge of the square

‘I wasn’t sure if you would want wine with your lunch so I thought that I would wait until I could ask you.’ Says Gloria sipping an aperitif

‘Well you don’t seem to have wasted much time getting started on the booze’ says Lizzie plonking her bags down under the table ‘Fliss and I are just going to have to catch you up. Hi Maria can we have a bottle of cold white wine and three glasses please.’

‘And the menu’ I add hurriedly

‘Oh yes and the menu’ laughs Lizzie ‘I suppose we will need some food to soak up the wine.’

‘Lizzie you are awful’ chokes Gloria ‘I’m only having a small sherry’

‘Not today your not. Today we are going to be ladies who lunch and sod the hangover.’


I’ve had a lovely day. Lizzie and I had a really productive shopping trip and I’m sure that I would never have bought half the clothes that I did if she hadn’t picked them out for me. And who would have imagined that Gloria could be so much fun. I’ve always thought that she was such a quiet little mouse but after a couple of sherries she really let her hair down, bless her.

I was tempted to get a cab home but I’m glad that I decided to walk back. It’s been so long since I’ve been walking at this time of day that I’d forgotten just how lovely the hills look in the early evening sunshine.

‘Hello stranger, I have missed you’

‘Paolo, I wondered if you would be in the fields.’

Paolo walked towards me, enveloped me in his strong bare arms and whispered ‘I have missed you so much’

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Episode 38 - The Fete

It never ceases to amaze me how some people can get so stressed organising something as simple a summer fete. You’d have thought that we were trying to re-launch the Millennium Dome rather than running a few stalls to raise money for a donkey sanctuary.

Poor old Malcolm had himself in such a stew earlier, running around trying to get us all organised. If that man doesn’t calm down he is in serious danger of blowing a gasket before the day’s out. It isn’t as if we were expecting thousands of people to turn up, we’ll be very lucky if we get a couple of hundred.

Mind you it’s been quite busy so far on the refreshments stall, Michael and I haven’t had a chance to catch our breath yet. I must admit I was surprised when Michael said that he would come today, I thought that he would still be far too upset to want to come out. The trouble was with him being so brave that I felt an absolute drip for dropping out because of Martin. Poor Cassy looked so relieved when I said that I would be OK to help even if Malcolm looked like he was about to throw his clip board at me.

Isn’t it funny, when Sonny was alive I don’t suppose many of us really knew what he and Michael did for a living. It wasn’t until Lizzie was chatting to some of their friends at the funeral that we found out that while Michael has taken early retirement, Sonny was still taking his act around the clubs back in the UK. Ella thought it was hysterical when she found out that Sonny had been a drag queen and took great delight in teasing Martin about the people he was hanging out with in Spain. Some of the old boys at the golf club had been quite shocked and at the time it was the only topic of conversation in the club house.

I wonder who will be the target for their next gossiping, I overhead old Mr Turnbull asking Martin if he was going back to work because of financial pressure or did he want to just escape from the old ball and chain for a while. Cheeky sod and I could have strangled Martin when he started laughing about how he was looking forward to getting away from my nagging for a while. Didn’t take him long to get back to his old ways did it? But at least Martin’s ‘little jokes’ don’t hurt me any more. I must be getting immune to them.

Lizzie was telling me that Clara Hale has been seeing a lot of Michael since the funeral. Now that’s a funny friendship. I always felt sorry for Clara living on her own in that big house in the village, she didn’t seem to have any close friends and ate on her own in Maria’s every night. But now, according to Lizzie, she meets up with Michael a couple of times a week for lunch and she’s even been spotted walking over the valley to his cottage. I suppose she feels sorry for him and is just being kind. Kinder than me, I haven’t been over to see him since the funeral. I phoned a couple of times to see how he was and I must admit I was surprised at how well he has taken it all. I’m sure most have us would have fallen apart if our partner had been knifed and murdered in front of us. I don’t think that I would have wanted to stay around here any more. I’m still a bit nervous about driving after dark; after all they still haven’t found the murder.

Gloria and Malcolm have suggested that we try and get some sort of neighbourhood watch going. I’m not so sure that it would work. It could be fine at La Vista but outside the complex it wouldn’t be quite so easy, for example who would be watching my villa. I don’t have any neighbours, well non close enough to see if anything is wrong. Martin suggested that we could get a couple of big guard dogs to have around the place. I don’t think so, I know who would end up having to look after the damn things and take them out for walks every day and I’m sure it wouldn’t be Martin. No, I’ll probably just take my chances, after all Sonny was miles away from here when he was killed.

Let’s face it before all this happened I felt really safe living here on my own while Martin was over in London. And in a couple of weeks Sophie and Alistair will be moving in with the girls while they are waiting for their new house to be built at the farm. So there is no need for guard dogs or any other dogs come to that, thank you very much.

It looks like some of the stalls are starting to pack up now and I think that when these last few customers of ours finish their cream teas we can probably start doing the same. Maybe I could invite Michael over for supper this evening, it would save him having to get home and start cooking for himself but if I invite him maybe I should ask Clara as well? Oh what the hell why not, let’s make a party of it. I’d better give Martin a quick ring and ask him to get some steak out of the freezer and fire up the BBQ. That should give him something new to moan about.


‘This is really very thoughtful of you Fliss’ says Clara Hale sliding into the back seat of Michael’s car.

‘It’s no trouble, honestly. I have to cook supper for Martin anyway and I thought that we could all do with a drink after being on our feet all day.’

‘Fliss would Martin mind if I left my car at yours and took a taxi home after supper’ asked Michael ‘I’m still not too happy about driving on my own after dark’

‘Of course he won’t mind, we can drive your car back tomorrow if you like. The walk back over the valley will do us good’

‘Thank you Fliss that’s very kind of you.’ Says Michael ask he starts off up the hill to the villa

That’s strange but I could have sworn that I just saw Clara out of the corner of my eye. I’m sure she was looking at Michael and biting her lip to stop herself from laughing. Now what was that all about?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Episode 37 - Making Plans

After seeing Fred before he had a chance to sneak back out on to the street, Ella had spent the next couple of hours trying to find him a place at a hostel and arrange appointments for him with the chiropodist, optician and G.P.
Putting down the phone after speaking to the local Health Centre, Ella was shocked to realise that it was two o’clock already. Just a quick call to Frank to let him know the good news then I’ll grab a sandwich to take back to the office, she thought selecting Father Frank’s mobile number on her speed dial.
‘Hi Frank, good news, I have managed to convince Fred to stay a couple of weeks in the Hostel in Kings Cross and have arranged appointments for all the services you suggested in your report’
‘Ella you are an angel. How did you manage to persuade him?’ asked Father Frank
‘You know me Frank, cajole is my middle name. The poor old chap didn’t stand a chance’. Ella laughed. ‘Sorry, I must rush, I’ve a meeting back at the office in an hour and I haven’t eaten yet today. It’s a wonder you can’t hear my tummy rumbling’
‘You’re going to make yourself ill if you carry on like this. Then how much use will you be to Fred and his pals. Why don’t I treat you to some lunch before your meeting? I am on the Pentonville Road now. I could be with you in 5 minutes, unless you fancy a quick half with your sandwich?’
‘That sounds great. I’ll see you in the Skinners Arms. If you get there before me I’ll let you stand me a half of Bitter.’ Ella smiled to herself as she gathered up her paperwork, I don’t know what I’d do without Frank, she thought, he’s the best friend a girl could have. He’s kind, thoughtful, good looking and there’s absolutely no chance of sex coming along to spoil it all.
Hurriedly making his way through the crowds on the Euston Road, Father Frank smiled at the thought of meeting Ella for lunch. It would be nice to see her away from work. The poor girl spends far too much time looking after other people, and not enough time looking after herself. It ‘d been ages since we’ve been for a drink together and we both deserved a treat for managing to get Fred off the streets, even if it was only for a couple of weeks.
The pub was busy with the usual lunch time crowd and the young priest decided that as it had stopped raining he would look for a table outdoors to wait for Ella. He was just settling himself down when Ella came around the corner into Judd Street.
‘Ella, I’ve managed to grab us a table out here and I’ve ordered some ham and cheese sandwiches. I hope that is OK?’
‘Perfect, an al fresco lunch before I’m closeted in a stuffy room with my boss for the rest of the afternoon, that’s just what the doctor ordered.’ Ella said with a sigh as she settled at the table.
‘What you need is a holiday. Why don’t go and see you folks out in Spain. I’m sure that your Mum could do with the support right now.
‘Oh Frank you must be psychic ‘I was thinking the same thing myself last night. I’m seeing my supervisor later today and I was going to ask her if I could have a couple of weeks off at the end of the month. ‘Said Ella as the waitress arrived with their sandwiches.
‘And maybe’ said Father Frank tucking into one of the sandwiches ‘you could take some time out for yourself while you’re there. Didn’t you tell me that you’ve always wanted to go driving up in the mountains? Well maybe you could do that as well.’
‘What a lovely idea and maybe if Dad’s back at work I could take Mum with me. I think a break would do her good as well.’
‘There you go again’ laughed Father Frank ‘always thinking of other people.’
‘No Frank, you’ve got me wrong. I’m being selfish, I could do with the company. I don’t fancy doing the trip on my own.’
‘’Don’t you have anyone special in your life at the moment you could take on holiday?’
Ella laughed ‘No, there’s no one special. The only men I get to meet are street people and they don’t take too many holidays.’
‘I suppose most of your clients are a bit too old for the 18-30 club scene’
‘Them and me both. No, all I need is a warm evening with the sun setting over the mountains and a cold jug of sangria.’
‘That sounds great, I‘m getting jealous now.’
‘Why, don’t priests go on holiday?’
Father Frank laughed at Ella’s obvious discomfort ‘Of course we do. Everyone needs to take a break now and again. I usually go fishing in Scotland. My parents have a summer house up in the Highlands. It’s very peaceful up there and just the place to recharge the batteries.’
‘Do you ever get the chance to go abroad?’
‘Now and again. I was in Rome a couple a couple of years ago and I’ve been invited to speak at conference next month in Madrid.’
‘How exciting, what are you speaking on?’
‘I’ll give you three guesses’ laughed the Father as he sipped his beer
‘The homeless?’ guessed Ella
‘You’ve got it in one. Listen I’ve just had a thought. If you are still on your travels when I’m in Spain why don’t you and your Mum come to Madrid for the conference? Don’t worry it’s not as stuffy as it sounds. The organisers have invited some very interesting speakers and maybe after the conference we could all spend a couple of days site-seeing in Madrid.’
‘That sounds great, I know Mum would love to meet you, Oh my gosh is that the time. I’m sorry I’ll have to rush can’t be late for my supervisor especially as I’m going to ask her for time off.’
Father Frank smiled as her watched Ella gather up her bags and run down the road. Madrid isn’t going to know what’s hit it he laughed.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Episode 36 - Family Secrets

Ella sat in her car and watched as Sophie bundled the girls into the house and turned to wave before closing the front door on the dark damp evening.

If anybody had told Ella a month ago that she and Sophie would have grown this close she wouldn’t have believed them. What could possibly happen that would wipe out ten years of sibling rivalry? Try having your world turned upside down, thought Ella as she pulled off into the London traffic.

Nobody could have guessed that Dad would have had so many secrets, a mistress and a massive debt to a bastard like Tony Eagleton. Poor Mum is still reeling from the shock thought Ella, but she had to admit that during this whole sorry episode Fliss had surprised her. It was too easy to think of your Mum as just that, - A Mum, rather than an intelligent competent woman. Fliss had proved that she was more than up to the job when she had contacted all of Martin’s clients. Within days all of their invoices had been paid and even if they pulled out of the markets now there was still the equity on their London flat to tide them over in the short term until Martin was back at work.

But it was Sophie who had surprised Ella most of all. Who would have believed that she would give up everything she had in London to move over to Spain. Sophie had been so efficient and in control of the whole business of refinancing the loan. Ella wasn’t sure what she had done exactly, the workings of Merchant Banks were a total mystery to her, all that she knew was, within days of Martin’s heart attack Sophie had managed to arrange a loan through her partners at Crabtree and Wright to pay off the dreadful Tony Eagleton.

There had been a fuss of course, Tony was threatening all sorts of legal action to claim the Villa in Spain, but Ella’s dear brother in law, Alistair had somehow persuaded Tony to accept the money from Crabtrees. Sometimes it was very handy having a lawyer in the family she thought.

Ella couldn’t believe that her Dad could have been stupid enough to think that such a scheming little manipulator like Laura was worth wrecking his marriage for. Sophie had told her that it was common knowledge that Laura was just a gold digger and thought nothing of using any man silly enough to spend money on her. Well it’s true what they say, there’s no fool like an old fool, she thought as she pulled up out side her flat.

As she fumbled to get her front door key in the lock Ella envied her sister’s decision to move. On a terrible night like tonight she thought how lovely to be able to take the time off and go somewhere warm and sunny. Making her mind up to speak to her supervisor the next day to ask for some of the holiday due to her, Ella put her shopping away and making herself a pot of fresh coffee, sat down at the table and opened her briefcase. There was so much work to catch up on before tomorrow she knew it was going to be a long night.


‘Good Morning Ella, did you have a good weekend?’ asked Father Frank as Ella ran into the emergency shelter.

‘Yes thanks Frank, I had a day out at my sister’s yesterday. It was lovely seeing my beautiful nieces again. I haven’t had much of a chance to see them since we got back from Spain. Looks like you had a time of it last night’ she frowned as she collected the files from the in tray.

‘We managed to get Fred to come in for the night. I am worried that he’s going down hill again. Will you be able to see him first Ella? I don’t want him to leave before you’ve had a chance to have a chat with him. I know that if you can convince him to get into a hostel for a couple of weeks it might make all the difference.’

‘I’ll try my best Frank but you know what he’s like. Just the thought of being inside can get him panicky.’

‘If he doesn’t get help soon I don’t like to think what will become of him. He is getting very frail. It’s lucky the nights are still warm. I don’t think that he would survive another winter on the streets’

‘Leave it with me. I’ll call him into the office now and see what I can do’

‘Thanks Ella, you’ve got a good heart’

‘Soft heart more like it’ she laughed ‘Are you finished for the day now?’ as a volunteer London street rescue worker Father Frank worked one night a month with a team helping the capital’s homeless people.

‘I’m excused work this morning but I still have to do my home visits this afternoon. So I’m off to my bed for a few hours. If you need me for anything you can always leave a message for me at the rectory’

‘Thanks Frank, I’ll see you soon no doubt’

‘No doubt’ said Father Frank slipping on his raincoat ‘Let me know how you get on with Fred’

‘Don’t forget your brolly’ called Ella as she disappeared down the corridor.

The young priest gathered up his bag and umbrella and made his way reluctantly towards the front door. It always felt like so much unfinished business leaving the shelter before he knew what was to become of its latest resident. Their work on the outreach team was to reassure the rough sleepers that they would be cared for and helped at the shelter. He knew that Ella would do her best for Fred but he wished that he could have stayed longer to see if she could manage to convince him to get the help he so obviously needed.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Episode 35 - A Good Send Off

The funeral procession left the church and made its way down to the cemetery at the edge of the village. Michael put on his dark glasses and took a fresh white handkerchief from his pocket. Wiping the sweat from his brow he led the mourners to the cemetery behind Sonny’s white coffin bedecked with blood red roses.

The tiny church had been standing room only with all the mourners and Michael was amazed to see that some of the locals were standing along the road down to the cemetery with heads bowed, as the procession passed.

At the cemetery Michael stood next to the priest as Sonny’s coffin was lowered into the newly dug grave. Staring down into the open grave Michael felt nothing but contempt for his dead lover. The hurt he felt when he saw Sonny and Carl together in Barcelona had grown so much that Michael’s head was swimming with hate. As the first spade full of soil hit the coffin Michael collapsed by the side of the grave.
‘Oh the poor chap’ said Malcolm rushing over to try and catch Michael as he fell ‘it’s all too much for him’
‘And this heat doesn’t help’ muttered Ken ‘it’s a wonder no one else has fainted.’
Gloria rushed over to help as Malcolm supported a sobbing Michael for the rest of the service.
As the priest made his final sign of the cross over the grave, Malcolm lead Michael back to his car and drove him back to the villa.
‘If you’d rather we all left’ said Michal putting a glass of cold water into Michael’s still shaking hands. ‘I will explain to everyone that you would rather be on your own’
‘No, I’m OK now, please let everyone in. Sonny deserves a good send off and some of his friends have travelled along way to be here. It would be rude to send them away without at least having some refreshments.’
‘Of course, of course, I’ll go and arrange the drinks for everyone’ said Malcolm glad of the excuse to leave Michael in Gloria’s capable hands.
‘It’s OK Gloria, you go with him. I just need a minute by myself’
‘Right you are dear. I’ll get Fliss to help me with the buffet’ said Gloria switching seamlessly into organising mode.
Michael took off his jacket and loosening his black tie walked into the bathroom. Splashing the cool water over his face and neck he looked at his reflection in the mirror, it was just a touch of the sun, he thought, that’s all. Drying his still shaking hands on the towel he walked back into the lounge.
Fliss had thrown open the patio doors and most of the mourners were standing outside in the shade. Michael walked amongst the crowd accepting condolences and slowly made his way over to the drinks table set up by the pool.
‘I’ve poured you a scotch on the rocks, you look like you need it’
Michaels’ heart stopped as he turned to see Carl holding the glass out to him.
‘You have been so brave Michael, I was just saying to Andy and Gerry that I really admire the way you have coped with everything. I know that Sonny would have been so proud of you trying to fight off those robbers.’
‘I didn’t do anything’ stumbled Michael as he sipped he cold whisky ‘I didn’t have a chance; it was all over so quickly.’
‘Bastards, I hope they rot in hell’. Said Carl ‘Poor Sonny, he was such a dear, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.’
Except me, thought Michael.
‘The last time we met’ continued Carl ‘was in Barcelona. I was over with Andy and Gerry looking for the bar. Sonny was so happy, we had a lovely day and he was really looking forward to telling you about their proposal.’
‘What proposal?’ asked Michael, this was getting far too confusing, maybe it was the heat or maybe it was just the strain of being on show but Michael was starting to sweat.
‘Andy and Gerry had offered him top billing at their new bar. He was thrilled, no more travelling back to the UK for work and leaving you for weeks at a time. He was telling us how happy you had made him and how he wanted you to come out to Barcelona with him when he was performing. It would be just like a holiday, he said’ Carl covered his face as he tried in vain to hold back the tears. ‘I’m sorry Michael, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. The last thing you need is me blubbing away.’
‘Don’t worry, would you like to use the en-suite and freshen up?’ asked Michael as he led Carl into the house. ‘Take as long as you need’ he added ‘I’d better circulate, will you be OK on your own?’
‘Sonny was right’ sniffed Carl ‘you are a kind man’
Michael walked back through the house and stood alone in the kitchen.
‘Oh my God’ he sobbed ‘what have I done. Is that what Sonny was trying to tell me, why didn’t I give him a chance to explain, why didn’t I listen to him?’
Sinking to his knees and sobbing Michael didn’t hear Clara as she walked through the open door and into the kitchen.
‘Come on Michael, I think its time you had a rest, it’s been a long day. Don’t worry about your guests Gloria and Fliss are there to look after them. I think that you’d be better trying to have a little sleep.’ Clara said as she lifted Michael from the floor and gently steered him towards the bedroom.
Handing him a sleeping pill from the little pill pot in her handbag Clara poured Michael a glass of water. ‘Here take this, it’s not strong, it’ll just help you sleep for a while.’
Wordlessly Michael washed the sleeping pill down and passed Clara the empty glass.
‘That’s good, now you lie on the bed and get comfortable. Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll stay and clear up when everybody’s gone, you just sleep.’ As she closed the bedroom door Michael’s eyes were already closing. Walking back through the house Clara smiled to herself. Well well she thought, it looks like I’m not the only one who has a secret round here.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Episode 34 - New Start

It’s lovely having a full house again. I hadn’t realised how much I‘d missed having Sophie, Alistair and the girls about he place, although I was a bit surprised when Sophie rang to ask if they could all come over for a couple of weeks. She’s been so busy recently arranging Martin’s loan and even seeing some of his clients, all this as well as everything her own job entails. I didn’t think that she would have time for a holiday yet. But I’m glad she did and the Spanish air seems to be agreeing with her. I’m thrilled that she is looking so much more relaxed than the last time she was here.

They’ve taken the girls over to Liam and Cassy’s farm today and with Martin out playing a few holes of golf I’m making the most of having an empty kitchen and getting some baking done.

Martin is talking about getting back to work soon. I’m not sure if it’s such a good idea for him to be back in London on his own all week again, especially with his track record. He swears to me that it is all over between him and Laura and I believe him, after all what would she want from him now that she knows there’s no chance of getting her grubby little hands on the villa.

No the trouble isn’t Laura; the trouble is that nothing else has changed over there. He would still be working long hours then going home to an empty flat. I can’t help wondering how long it’d be before he found someone else to share his bed.

Am I being mean? Maybe he really does believe it when he tells me that he’s changed. The problem is that I’ve heard it all before, sorry Fliss, I was stupid Fliss, it won’t happen again Fliss. How do I know that this time will be any different and I suppose the question is do I really care?

There I’ve said it – I don’t know if I care anymore – so what if he finds someone else, its not as if the world will end if find myself a divorcee at fifty two.

‘Something smells good Mum, Olivia, Grace come quickly, Grandma has been making pies’ says Sophie as she walks into the kitchen.

‘I must have been miles away, I didn’t realise it was so late. Hello my little darlings, did you have a nice time at the farm?’

‘Oh Grandma’ says Grace ‘the lady goat has had babies and they were drinking milk from their Mummy’s bottom.’

‘No Grace it wasn’t her bottom it was her udder’ explains Olivia very seriously to her little sister. Poor Grace looks shocked and hides her face behind her hands and dissolves into a fit of giggles.

‘Well I think that’s enough biology for one day, come on you two let’s leave Grandma in peace. Who fancies a dip in the pool?’ Alistair says as he shoos the girls out of the kitchen.

‘It sounds like you had a good day’ I say to Sophie who has started to help clear way the baking dishes.

‘It was lovely Mum. Liam and Cassy are so happy and even the baby seems to be thriving on all the fresh air and sunshine.’

‘If I didn’t know better I’d think you were jealous’ Sophie is smiling, her face glowing from a day in the sunshine, her eyes sparkle as she says

‘Mum, how would you feel about us moving out here to Spain?’

‘Sophie darling that would be wonderful, but what about your jobs and your house in London, what about the girls’ schools.’

‘Alistair and I have been doing a lot of soul searching since the last time we were here. All we seem to do is work and sleep. We never have time for each other and precious little time for the girls. You were right Mum, they are growing quickly and we’re missing so much of it.’

‘So why here, why Spain? I thought that you wanted a house in Italy so that you could be close to your friends.’

I suppose it was seeing how happy Liam and Cassy are. They have such dreams Mum. So many ideas about their future, the only thing holding them back is the lack of money.’

‘And how does that affect you?’ I ask

‘A partnership, that’s what we were talking about today. We’ve put a proposition to them, if they would sell us their bottom field, you know, the one buy the river? We could build our own house there.’

‘Oh Darling how exciting but you know that there’s plenty of room here if you need to live somewhere before the builders have finished. What would you do for work? I can’t imagine that Crabtree and Wright would be very happy with you working from home.’

Sophie laughed ‘No Mum, I don’t think they would. That’s the second part of our proposal. We have offered to go into business with them. With our money going into the business we would be able to convert their big barns into holiday accommodation which would give a far better return that the B&B they originally planned. Alistair would still be able to work in Brussels until he found a suitable position in Madrid and I would like to put some stabling up in the old yard so that we could offer pony trekking as well as the holiday lets.’

She’s done it again. Just when I think that I know all there is to know about Sophie she surprises me yet again.

For the first time in a very long time I think that there really is something to look forward to.